It’s a spring fling as Rays are talking contract extensions with Curtis Mead, others

Tales | Brandon Lowe, who has the same agent, went through the same process four years ago and ended up with a lucrative deal.
Despite playing just 20 games at the Triple-A level, Curtis Mead is one of the top infield prospects in baseball, with projections to be an impact hitter based on his minor-league performance.
Despite playing just 20 games at the Triple-A level, Curtis Mead is one of the top infield prospects in baseball, with projections to be an impact hitter based on his minor-league performance. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Mar. 11

ST. PETERSBURG — Curtis Mead found it surprising, “very humbling” and a few other things when agent Dustin Bledsoe told him recently the Rays had initiated talks about a multiyear contract extension.

Mead is one of the top infield prospects in the game, projected to be an impact hitter based on his minor-league performance though he has played only 20 games at Triple-A and not spent a day in the majors. Nor is the 22-year-old Australian likely to start the season at the big-league level whether he signs a deal or not.

That the Rays would be willing to guarantee tens of millions of dollars over a half-dozen or so years is a lot to process, with talks ongoing.

“There’s been lots of conversations that have been had,” Mead said. “And it’s definitely been mentally challenging trying to play baseball at the same time.”

Having players weigh whether to take the guaranteed, life-changing money versus potentially selling themselves short over the length of the deal (and comparing notes about it) is tricky. That’s why the Rays typically have such talks in March, when all parties are together and before games count and pressures mount.

This year was a bit of an aberration, as pending arbitration hearings accelerated talks and led to January extension agreements with veterans Yandy Diaz, Pete Fairbanks and Jeffrey Springs.

Now the Rays are in the process of exploring possibilities with some of their younger players. Mead was one; outfielder Josh Lowe, and infielders Isaac Paredes and Taylor Walls are among others who could be approached. (Talks with Shane McClanahan, whose success elevates him to a different category, likely would be for another time, if then. Same, likely, with Randy Arozarena, who is in the first of four years of arbitration eligibility.)

Brandon Lowe was 24 and had played only 43 games in the majors when the Rays reached out to him and Bledsoe in the spring of 2019. The sides eventually worked out a deal for $24 million over six years, with the chance for Lowe to earn up to $49 million over eight.

“I was extremely surprised; I’m an undersized human being,” said the supposedly 5-foot-10 Lowe. “I don’t know what they saw, but it was a great feeling when they said, ‘Hey, we want to extend you.’”

Acknowledging he “didn’t come from a whole lot, so anything’s going to sound great,” Lowe trusted Bledsoe to negotiate for what he deemed was fair value.

When Lowe, who was driving with his wife, Madison, heard the final numbers he pulled to the side of the highway. “We had to take a couple breaths,” he said. “We’re like, ‘Holy crap, that’s a lot of money.’ So it pulls on you a little bit. But you have to just make sure it makes sense and it’s a good deal for you.”

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Reaching agreement provided a “calming factor” for Lowe, knowing a bad stretch wouldn’t impact his career and his family was now set financially for generations.

Lowe said he considered the deal “friendly for the team and friendly for myself” given that he wasn’t a touted prospect “The biggest thing for a contract is always trying to go out and out-perform it,” he said, “and I hope that I have, and hopefully that leads to another one.”

Rays general manager Peter Bendix said the team’s philosophy in exploring such deals is for them to be mutually beneficial and with an understanding of the risk/reward ratio, which is harder with younger, less-proven players. For as many of these deals that worked out for the Rays, there are some where they were stung initially but happy later a player said no as their performance faltered.

“It’s a commitment from both sides,” Bendix said. “It’s something where you don’t want somebody to sign a deal that they regret instantly.

“You want someone to sign a deal that they’re happy with no matter how things play out. They can play out in a lot of different directions, and you need them to be comfortable with it. Just like we need to be comfortable with all the different possibilities.”

Dave Wills remembrances

There won’t be a funeral for Dave Wills, the longtime Rays radio broadcaster who died on March 5. A private celebration of life event will be held on March 23. … Wills added to his litany of memorable phrases in his final game, describing a hitter assessed a third strike for not being ready within the pitch-clock limit as a “strikeout not looking.” … The Buddy Baseball Tampa program for boys and girls 8-22 with special needs, for which Wills volunteered, will dedicate its season to him and install a plaque in his honor. … St. Pete-based 1771 Designs is selling a Wills tribute T-shirt, with proceeds going to Buddy Baseball; see

Rays Tales

The Rays, as of now, won’t be among the teams wearing an advertising patch on their jerseys (as Major League Baseball is allowing starting this season) but could strike a deal in the coming months. … Having eliminated their road gray jerseys to add the Devil Rays throwbacks to their four options for this season, the Rays in 2024 will add a custom-designed City Connect ensemble. The design is secret but likely to be colorful as there is talk the pants won’t be white or gray … Minor-league lefty Joe LaSorsa got a huge eighth-inning out for Team Italy in its World Baseball Classic win over Cuba and — in what had to be thrilling moment given he grew up a Mets fan — got a fist-bump from manager Mike Piazza. … First cuts are likely by Tuesday, with some young 40-man roster players likely to be optioned to the minors. … Diaz’s big splurge after signing his three-year, $24 million extension: a Mercedes-Benz SUV. He noted the safety benefits, as he and his wife are expecting a child in July. … lists infielder Cooper Kinney, a high 2021 draft pick, as a candidate to break into the top 100 prospects list.

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